HP Digital Entertainment Center at the end of the line

HP Digital Entertainment Center at the end of the line

HP said it would stop developing new Digital Entertainment Center products, in a move toward simpler systems integrated into TVs

Just a week after Apple shipped the Apple TV, HP has decided to stop developing new models of its Digital Entertainment Center line in favour of a simpler, more consumer-friendly design.

HP designed the Digital Entertainment Center (DEC) as a sophisticated product with a full complement of audio/visual ports to connect to any television set, according to public relations manager for digital entertainment at HP, Pat Kinley. The product, more expensive than PCs running Microsoft's Media Center OS and designed to look more at home in a living room than a typical PC, was pitched to specialty retailers selling custom installations for high-end home theatres, she said. The company would now stop development of the line, although it would sell and support the remaining units in the marketplace.

"We have other products on the market now and future products that I can't talk about that perform essentially the same function in a way that's easier for the consumer [to use]. We're moving to a scenario where the TV itself can be attached to the home network, the MediaSmart TV," Kinley said.

An Australian HP spokesperson said the Digital Entertainment Centre category was limited to the Digital Entertainment Centre, which is the horizontal form factor, MCE-based product. This was not available in Australia.

"This does not impact the HP Pavilion Media Center PC range in Australia at all. HP is 100 per cent committed to the Media Center category, and will plan to offer various PC and other form factors such as the HP Pavilion, Compaq Presario and HP TouchSmart PC," the spokesperson said.

As recently as September, HP had launched two DEC models in the US, saying the z565 and z560 could serve as high-definition digital video recorders as well as managing music collections and creating digital photo slide shows. The machines run Microsoft's new Windows Vista Premium OS, offering up to 800GB of hard-disk capacity and Intel's dual-core processors and Viiv entertainment bundle.

By packing so much power into the DEC, HP was moving away from the market trend toward less-expensive devices with simpler interfaces, such as the Apple TV set-top box, one analyst said.

"The home theatre buff is becoming more and more of an endangered species, because high fidelity has given way to convenience," an analyst with The Yankee Group, Josh Martin, said. The popularity of portable music players such as Apple's iPod has shown that most users were willing to trade the quality of music recorded on CDs for the mobility of music stored as MP3 files.

This trend wouldn't reduce demand for PCs running Windows Media Center Edition OS, however. Users still needed to manage their personal and Web-based media, and the PC was a far better tool for that job than the TV, Martin said.

HP's move is logical, according to Richard Doherty, research director at The Envisioneering Group in Seaford, New York.

He said nobody had tried harder than HP to make the promise of Media Center software work. But given its other efforts in the digital home arena such as Media Vault and Media Smart TVs, it made sense to refocus, he said.

Martin sees vendors meeting the increasing demand for simplicity with a new class of TVs that can play digital content stored on PCs, USB devices or networked storage without relying on an additional set-top box. By beginning its transition to that model now, HP could get a jump on its future competitors. The connected TV is not a mass market yet, but future producers could include traditional television set makers such as Sony, Samsung Electronics and Pioneer, as well as router makers like Netgear, D-Link Systems and Cisco Systems, and gaming console makers like Microsoft and Nintendo.

The winning formula in that market would be ease of use and simplicity, Martin said.

(With additional reporting by Elizabeth Heichler in Boston).

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